by Grady Mitchell | We sit at the back door of furniture designer Christian Woo’s studio, on a semi-industrial block in Strathcona, as the sun lights up the back alley. His dog, Buff, sniffs around stacks of luminous wood, quiet tools and saws, and half-built designs of steel and glass that, even in various states of disassembly, are already striking. These pieces are an extension of Christian’s life on the west coast. Clean, simple, distilled to the most essential form, they feel natural, almost inevitable. “I’ve always felt like things are big and powerful here,” he says of his home turf. His work is elegant and largely seamless, the joints and connections hidden to give the impression that each shaped itself, simply grew into that form organically. Rather than extravagance Christian balances proportion, making sure every element is in harmony.
It’s been a defining year for him. He married his longtime partner, Talia, beat a serious illness, and exhibited at ICFF, the world’s leading furniture conference in New York City, a longtime goal that landed the Vancouver designer representation in the States.
But long before that, Christian was a kid working in the woodshop with his grandpa. “He was certainly an inspiration,” Christian says. “Not only through work, but in the whole game of life.” Although they chose woodworking, his grandfather always told him that, no matter what he did, strive to do it well.
Christian listened. He apprenticed as a cabinet maker and went on to build movie sets. Later he enrolled in the environmental design program at the Ontario College of Art and Design. But two weeks before classes started, he changed his mind. Rather than spend four years putting off what he really wanted to do, he figured he’d jump right in. “I had no real idea what was going to happen, but I just went with it. It just felt right.”
Photo: Trevor Brady
Christian had studied how things were put together a long time before he started to question why they were put together that way. Now he set out to incorporate aesthetic design choices into the things he made.
Bringing those ideas to life responsibly is key to Christian’s philosophy. Many exotic woods from the Amazon and Africa aren’t accountably harvested, their toll on both the environment and workers dubious, and so Christian works only with responsibly harvested domestic hardwoods. Today most of his pieces coalesce in his mind fully-formed. Then, he says, “It’s a matter of reverse-engineering that. Every piece is really a series of parts and pieces and how they interact.”
Momentum was building when Christian was blindsided by a cancer diagnosis. “I went through a lot of time wondering if I was going to be able to do this,” he remembers. The experience fundamentally altered his perspective on his work and life. Now he approaches things more openly, he says, trying to keep the two in better harmony. In May Christian packed up some pieces to exhibit at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York. The trip not only crossed off a longtime dream, it earned him a foothold south of the border with an American rep.
But whatever the challenges he encounters or success he earns, he calls back to the simple principles his grandpa taught him. “It doesn’t really matter what you decide to do,” Christian says. “Just get really good at it, and the rest will fall into place.”
To check out Christian’s work, visit his site.